Oct 212014

Brandenburg Gate

When my “bonus son” visits each summer we spend a lot of time talking about everything from international politics to family traits. We tackle new experiences and drag out old family photos.  Since he lives so far away, he’s intrigued by family traits and similarities that crop up without living in the same household — or even on the same continent.  He’s both participant and observer,  trying on ideas and traits before claiming them as his own.

His Dad grew up imprinted with good luck and perfect timing, reinforced by a mother who affirmed it:  “You always land on your feet.” As a result, my partner seems to have spent his whole life expecting good outcomes and is rarely disappointed. His youngest son is intrigued by and attracted to this thought.

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“I’ll bet they thought I forgot….” said the message that came with the picture at the gate.

When Luis headed back to Berlin, he was asked to take this picture in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Despite the combined pressures of school and sports and social life he managed to get it done. I had forgotten that his aikido instructor asked for this picture… but when we Skyped this week he asked me to share it.

[Tweet “Despite the combined pressures of school, sports & social life he got it done.”]

“I know my friends Ryan and Maggie have their black belt tests and I wanted to share this for good luck.

Maybe they know the Brandenburg Gate has been an important symbol of victory for many years. It’s where we celebrate lots of things — most recently Germany’s reunification. It reminds me of aikido because it symbolizes both strength and of peace.

When I started aikido this past summer, everyone was very kind and helpful to me… but nobody more than Ryan and Maggie. They helped me understand a lot of things about various techniques but, even more important, some things about life. My Dad always says that everyone we meet is a teacher. This summer at the dojo made that very clear to me: there are “official teachers” but we get to learn from everyone. Ryan and Maggie went out of their way to show me the value of hard work, enthusiasm and fun while trying to be the very best I can be. Like the Gate, they represent both peace and strength.”

So, was he a procrastinating teen? Or does he, like his Dad, tend toward perfect timing?

I join him in wishing our friends the best of luck as they attempt this important milestone.

[Tweet “There are “official teachers” but we get to learn from everyone.”]



Oct 072014
A family photo from 1969.

A family photo from 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The combination of digital photography and social media means taking and sharing family pictures has never been easier. But what makes a good photo?  Seems pretty simple, right?  Grab your camera or your phone, choose a subject you love, point and click.

Not so fast.  How do you decide how closely to look at your subject?  Or what lighting is most flattering?  What stays in the frame and what do you leave out?  And what the heck does this have to do with parenting?

I picked up my first camera in grade school and have been hooked ever since.  In addition to being a great way to capture and share memories, photography offers some great metaphors for day-to-day decisions about family life. Here are three tips from photographers that might help bring your parenting decisions into sharper focus.

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1)  Focus.  Parents have many opportunities to practice this one. “What we focus on gets bigger” and  “picking our battles” spring instantly to mind.  Where is your attention?  Do you use car rides to listen to your kids or distracted?  And, even though you’re busy, how often are you able to carve out time to give undivided attention to the people who matter most? Where is your focus?

2) Framing.  Sometimes what you choose to leave out of a photo is as important as what you choose to include. (The same can probably be said for discussion, diets and drama, right?) In a photo, using natural borders (like rooflines, horizons and fences) to reinforce the boundary created by the frame helps viewers focus on the subject you chose.  I think it’s a lot like what happens when we create rules and boundaries   —  they help our kids stay safe while they’re developing skills and strategies they need to operate in the world.

[Tweet “Boundaries help our kids stay safe while they’re developing skills & strategies to operate in the world.”]

3) Cropping.  Technology makes it pretty simple to cut out all the distracting background and let your beautiful subject fill the frame.  Putting a tight focus on your subject cuts out the clutter and allows the viewer a better view of your subject.  The main thing gets to be the main thing. Technology-free zones and family dinners are two ways to do this.

What tips do you have for making family life a prettier picture?


Want to connect on Instagram?  I’m having fun with phone photos there.

Oct 012014


Girl barrel racing

Striving to be the best.


I’m a fan of collaboration and cooperation.  I’m also not crazy about our culture’s growing aversion to competition for kids.  When nobody loses nobody wins, either.

[Tweet “Our growing aversion to competition for kids: when nobody loses nobody wins, either.”]

Healthy competition is a fact of life and can be helpful to a child who is going to grow into a self-sufficient adult: if we want to teach our kids that they can influence their own outcomes, I’m not sure it’s fair to protect them from the opportunity to face challenges.  Being part of a contest can drive us to reach our potential, show us what it takes to reach the higher levels and often demonstrate we’re capable of more than we thought.

[Tweet “Being part of a contest can drive us to reach our potential & show us what it takes to reach higher levels.”]

It’s easy to find articles about adults who bring a cutthroat mentality and even violence to youth sports.  That has much more to do with power, control and vicarious living than with competition.  Competitiveness is an essential life skill, neither inherently positive or negative. That part’s on us.

It’s about striving for excellence, going after something true and noble… fair play and sportsmanship… being the best you can be… commitment, persistence, discipline, vision and focus.  The ultimate triumph is in the journey, not just the destination… it’s the striving, not just the winning…

Bob Costas on the making of great Olympians

Striving for the win will not teach kids they’ll always get it if they work hard.  They may learn that coaches, referees and even other parents are not always fair or mature. They may discover that some teammates are lazy and selfish — just like in “real life.”  While I never enjoyed the conversations sparked by that learning (or seeing my athlete unhappy) I always appreciated the opportunity to talk about the importance of understanding the behavior of others and not take it too personally.

[Tweet “Kids may discover that some teammates can be lazy & selfish: just like in “real life.””]

Sometimes our conversations about deep disappointment would morph into wonderful discussions about situations we can control versus those we cannot change.  The earlier we learn we can’t change others, the better.

Some of competition’s greatest lessons take time to uncover:

  • the  most important opponents we ever face are our own fears and the limitations we place on ourselves
  • and those who don’t compete don’t lose; they also can’t win.